Q: #117. What day was Jesus crucified on? I believe it is Friday, but I have heard people saying it was Thursday or even Wednesday.
By: Steve Shirley
A: I have ended up spending WAY more time studying this than I originally intended. I have always believed that Jesus' crucifixion was on a Friday too, but I had never really spent much time studying the scriptures to find out if I was right in believing this. In the midst of studying various reasons that people gave for holding to a Wednesday or Thursday crucifixion day, I did see some validity in their points. At one point, I was even becoming convinced of a Thursday crucifixion. However, after completing my study, I am now comfortable in holding to the traditional Friday crucifixion. Let me explain my reasoning below.
What most convinced me that Friday was the day of Jesus crucifixion was the study of the Jewish celebrations and feasts in the Old Testament. God gave the Israelites a number of feasts that they were to keep, but for this study we will focus on three:
The Passover which was to be celebrated on the 14th of Nisan (app. our March/April) (Lev 23:4-8)(Ex 12:1-13).
The Feast Of Unleavened Bread, celebrated on the 15-21st of Nisan (Lev 23:4-8)(Ex 12:14-20).
The Feast Of The Firstfruits, celebrated on the 16 of Nisan (Lev 23:9-14).
The Passover celebrated the time in the Old Testament when God told the Israelites on the 14th of Abib (later to become Nisan) to slay an unblemished 1 yr old lamb (Ex 12:5) and place its blood over the doorposts and lintel of the doorways, so that they would be protected or "passed over" when God killed all of the firstborn in the land of Egypt (Ex 12:7-12). This pointed to Jesus, who is pictured as a Lamb (Jn 1:29,36)(Rev 5)(Rev 7:10,14,17), who was slain (crucified) on the 14th of Nisan just before sunset (3 p.m.) at the same time when God ordered lambs killed before the Passover (Ex 12:6), and whose blood covers us and protects us from God's wrath.
Let me take just a moment here to explain something that will be important to understanding some of the things that follow. The Jewish day did not start and end at the same time as our day or the Roman day did. While our new day begins at 12 a.m. and ends 24 hours later, the Jewish day began after sunset, and didn't always have exactly the same beginning time. It began at approximately 6 p.m. and ended 24 hours later.
Ok. Now most everyone pretty much agrees that Jesus arose from the dead (The Resurrection) on Sunday (the first day of the week) as the Bible plainly states (Mt 28:1)(Mk 16:2,9)(Lk 24:1)(Jn 20:1). We are told in (Mk 16:1-2)(Lk 24:1) that the women visited Jesus' tomb VERY early in the morning, but (Jn 20:1) says that "Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still DARK, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb." Using the Jewish time, it is possible that Jesus could have arisen anytime after 6 p.m. on our Saturday, but their Sunday. However, it was probably about 12 hours later.
Going back to the feasts now, we said that the Feast Of The Firstfruits was always on the 16th of Nisan. This day celebrated the first harvest of the season which was barley. New crops arose from dead seeds that were planted. This pointed to Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. Most scholars agree that this was the day that Jesus arose from the dead. (1 Cor 15:20-23) points to this by saying that Jesus was the firstfruit of all who belonged to Him. So, clearly there are 3 days (date-wise) between the Passover (the 14th) and the Feast Of The Firstfruits (the 16th). If Jesus arose from the dead on the Feast Of The Firstfruits, this had to be Sunday. Therefore, He HAD to have died on Friday, It is impossible for Jesus to have died on Wednesday (the 12th) or Thursday (the 13th), if He arose on the 16th. This was the clincher for me in determining when Jesus was crucified, However, let's look at a few other things which point to a Friday crucifixion.
Another key thing is that the day Jesus died was called the "Day Of Preparation" (Mt 27:62)(Mk 15:42,53)(Lk 23:54)(Jn 19:14,31,42). The Bible clearly shows us in each of these verses that the "Day Of Preparation" was the day before the Sabbath, and the traditional day to prepare for it (See: Ex 16:22-26). Also, the Greek word for "preparation" is "paraskeue." It is my understanding that while "paraskeue" does not literally mean Friday (it means readiness according to Strong's), it did come to be associated with Friday in those days.
The Bible also says in a number of places that after Jesus died, he would be raised from the dead on the third day (Mt 12:40)(Mt 16:21)(Mk 8:31)(Lk 9:22)(Jn 2:19-21). Counting back 3 days from Sunday makes Jesus' crucifixion on a Friday (Sunday, Saturday, Friday). One problem that people have with this is that it doesn't make for three 36 hour days until He arose from the dead. This is explained by a Jewish way of thinking which states that a part of a day (an onah) is still counted as a whole day. In other words, a half day, or any part of a day, would still be a full day. Carrying this out in reference to Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, we have Jesus dying at approximately 3 p.m. (the 9th hour: Mt 27:46-50, Mk 15:34-37, Lk 23:44-46 -- remember 6 a.m. started the 2nd half of the Jewish day). So, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. would be one day: Friday. From 6 p.m.-6 p.m. would be the 2nd day: Saturday. From 6 p.m. to 6 p.m. the following day would be Sunday. Jesus arose sometime during the 1st half of this Jewish day.
Another place which points to a Friday crucifixion is (Jn 12:1). It tells us that six days before the Passover, Jesus had supper with Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and His disciples (Jn 12:2-11). This was most likely after sunset on Friday, making it their Saturday (The Sabbath). (Jn 12:12) says the "next day," or Sunday, was Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (Jn 12:12-15)(Mk 1:1-11)(Mt 21:1-11)(Lk 19:28-44). Therefore, we have 6 days from Saturday to Friday, the Passover: (Sat to Sun: day 1)(Sun to Mon: day 2)(Mon to Tues: day 3)(Tues to Wed: day 4)(Wed to Thurs: day 5)(Thurs to Fri: day 6).
As I was studying this, a thought occurred to me. Haven't some scholars out
there somewhere taken the time to trace the calendar back to find out when the
14th and 15th of Nisan fell in those days? It shouldn't be that hard, because
we also know that the 15th was a "high day" Sabbath (Jn 19:31), meaning that
it was not an ordinary Sabbath, but one on which the Feast of Unleavened
Bread fell as well. Well... it turns out a LOT of people have done this, and of
course... there are differing conclusions. However, a number of reputable sources have
come to the conclusion that, based upon their studies, the year of Jesus' death
was 30 A.D. (More precisely, some believe it was Friday, April 3, 30 A.D.)
This is possible, and would make Jesus approximately 33 years old when He died
(more on the calendar we use today here).
***Note: Based upon my own studies, I come up with an age for Jesus' death at between 33-35 years old in the years 28 or 29 A.D. I discuss this in detail here.)
Although I personally do not hold to this theory, there are also some who believe that the darkened sun spoken of in (Jn 23:44-45) was an eclipse. Based on that, they have tried to pin down the day/date by tracing back when an eclipse could have happened in those days. Many of these people have also come up with a date of 30 A.D.
Finally, there is one more thing that I find interesting, which I believe points to a Friday crucifixion, although some may disagree. It is found in (Ex 12:3-6). In celebrating the Passover, God commanded each household in Israel to choose a lamb on the 10th of the month (of Abib/Nisan)(Ex 12:3), and kill it on the 14th (Ex 12:6). Although the Bible doesn't say this, the traditional reason why there was a 4 day interval was so that the lamb could be inspected to make sure there were no flaws in it. This is fascinating, because it seems to correspond directly to Jesus. When Jesus made His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Sunday, (Mk 11:11) says He went into the Temple and looked around, but since it was late, He left for Bethany (the other Gospels seem to say He cleansed the Temple that same day). The next day (Mk 12:12), Monday, He went back into Jerusalem, and for the next 4 days (Monday the 10th- Friday the 14th) He was examined and questioned by the Jewish leaders. Of course, there was no flaw in Him, although they failed to believe this. On Friday, the 14th, He was killed.
I would like to quickly address two criticisms that some people hold regarding a Friday crucifixion.
The first is those who hold to a two Sabbaths in a week position, usually believing in a Wednesday crucifixion date. In bolstering this position, they use the following two verses. (Lk 23:55-56) says that after Jesus' death, He was laid in the tomb, and then the women "returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment." They would have had from about 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. to do this. However, in (Mk 16:1) it says "And when the Sabbath was past, (the women)... bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint Him." It is argued, how could they purchase spices after the Sabbath, and yet prepare them before the Sabbath? Their reasoning is that this must point to two Sabbaths. I fail to see the logic in this thinking. Why not view this just like it is laid out for us? The women prepared spices for several hours after Jesus' death, and then they rested on the Sabbath. The Sabbath ended at app. 6 p.m. the next day, at which time they went out and bought MORE spices (they probably didn't have enough), and then they spent the night preparing them before going to the tomb in the morning.
The second point is in regards to when Jesus and His disciples celebrated their Passover and the Feast Of Unleavened Bread. Clearly, they did not celebrate it on the day that we have said above they should have celebrated it on. Why? Some simply believe that they celebrated early because Jesus knew what was going to happen, and He knew He would not be able to celebrate at the prescribed times. I just don't see this as plausible. However, in reading my study Bible by John MacArthur, He laid out an explanation for this that made sense to me. I am not going to go into his very detailed explanation here, but in short, he says it has to do with "a difference among the Jews in the way they reckoned the beginning and the ending of days," depending on where they lived. He cites several sources outside of the Bible that confirm this.
In conclusion, let me lay out a timeline as to how I view the last days of Jesus' life.
Saturday: (the 8th of Nisan) Jesus has dinner with Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and His disciples (Jn 12:1-11).
Sunday: (the 9th of Nisan)(the next day: Jn 12:12) Jesus Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (verses above).
Monday: (the 10th of Nisan)(the next day: Mk 11:12) Jesus cursed the fig tree and cleansed the Temple (Mk 11:13-19).
Tuesday: (the 11th of Nisan)(In the morning: Mk 11:20, Mt 21:18) The fig tree was dead, and Jesus walks around in the Temple answering questions (Mk 11:20- 13:37)(Mt 21:18-26:1).
Wednesday: (the 12th of Nisan) The Jewish leaders plot to kill Jesus (Mk 14:1-2)(Mt 26:1-5)(Lk 22:1-6).
Thursday: (the 13th of Nisan) The day the disciples prepared for the Passover and the Feast Of Unleavened Bread (Mt 26:17-19)(Mk 14:12-16)(Lk 22:7-13). They celebrated it that evening (Mt 26:20).
Friday: (the 14th of Nisan) Jesus and His disciples had the "Last Supper," celebrating the Feast Of Unleavened Bread (Mt 26:17-29)(Mk 14:22-31)(Lk 22:14-38). After the supper, they went to the Mount of Olives (Gethsemane), and Jesus prayed (Mt 26:30-46)(Mk 14:32-42)(Lk 22:39-45). Then Judas and the soldiers came and they arrested Jesus (Mt 26:47-56)(Mk 14:43-52)(Lk 22:54-65). He spent that night on trial, concluding in His being crucified at 9 a.m. (the 3rd hour) in the morning (Mk 15:25).
Saturday: (the 15th of Nisan) Jesus body remains in the grave, but most believe
His spirit and/or soul was in Sheol proclaiming His victory and the Gospel
to those in Sheol
(See: Q: #73.).
Sunday: (the 16th of Nisan) Jesus' resurrection from the dead.
Sorry this was a little longer than usual...